In March, Anthony Fauci praised Australia for being a world leader on the ‘containment and management of emerging coronavirus variants’. It’s true – since the onset of the pandemic, Australia has indisputably fared well at minimising their national covid death toll. To date, the nation has seen just over 1,000 total Covid deaths, compared to the UK’s 130,000. But at what cost?
Today, 18 million Australians (or over three-quarters of the country) entered another day of rolling lockdowns. For many school children, this marks almost 30 missed weeks of classroom learning. The Australian federal debt is expected to reach a record 80% of GDP by 2024, and only in 2007 there was zero – yes, zero – federal government debt. 38,000 Australians remain stranded abroad. And, those citizens at home are still banned from leaving the country to visit loved ones overseas (despite criticism that this is an outright violation of international human rights law). That is, unless they’re well-connected politicians, movie stars or sports figures – then they can leave.
For the past 17 months, Scott Morrison and his cabinet have aggressively pursued an eradication policy – i.e. where a single coronavirus infection is one too many. As we all know, Australia, along with its close neighbour New Zealand, proved largely successful in the early days of the virus at achieving this end and both nations were applauded on the world stage (even, as we saw, by Mr Fauci). Although Australia’s geographic isolation and low population density no doubt played a role, we should not discount the effectiveness of the PR terror tactics used by the government and media to force the population into submission. Australians were told, time and again, that the only way to avoid the horrors facing their peer nations was to prevent infection completely.
But it now seems that Mr Morrison’s fear-mongering campaign may have been too effective.
The Australian government recently declared that they want to vaccinate 75% of the population before the country will consider opening up international borders. Not only is this a distant goal (only 32% of the population is currently double jabbed, compared to the UK’s 77%), but we have learned that complete vaccination will never result in zero Covid infections. Indeed, the evidence coming out of Israel demonstrates that the value of vaccines is in lowering death rates – but doesn’t do much about transmissibility. Israel is up there with the most vaccinated countries on earth and yet is currently suffering an explosion of cases. Eradication is simply not possible to sustain.
When world leaders across the globe acknowledged this fact, it was accepted by their citizens. They largely understood that coronavirus infections will continue to exist in our lives for the foreseeable future – something to be tackled by medical developments, strengthening immunity and booster jabs.
However, when Mr Morrison made a similar statement – announcing that pursuit of eradication would end once vaccine rates reach high enough levels – neither the population nor the state premiers were unanimously on-board.
In fact, recent surveys revealed that Australians remain more worried about coronavirus than any other Western country. 3/5 Australians still believe that borders should be closed as a result of 25 (or fewer) active cases. Yes, it seems that Mr Morrison’s PR campaign was simply too good – and now he can’t turn back. An election has to be held by May of next year and his supposedly right-of-centre party is being wedged. Most opponents of the heavy-handed government approach are on the right side of politics. New parties have formed. The government is being lambasted by some 10 to 15% of Australian voters who favour freedom, most of whom would be former Coalition PM Morrison voters. Meanwhile, most Australians cannot understand how a disease that, only weeks ago, was dangerous enough to justify revoking almost all civil freedoms, is now something that can be “managed just like you would the flu”. And can we blame them?
We should take this as an important lesson on the potential consequences of media fearmongering and the ways in which it can easily spiral out of control.